A lot of things lead to be becoming a wedding photographer...
...like attending over fifty weddings before attending college. Maybe it was attending summer camps for the arts, loving fashion, flowers, everything Pittsburgh weddings. One major factor was my grandfather collecting every camera as they came out from old billow models to the SD cards of today. He had a darkroom in the basement, in the back of his woodworking shop, parallel to my grandmother's pottery wheel and kiln. My sisters and I would run to my grandmother as we gathered for Sunday lunch- she'd hug us as long as we weren't wearing velvet (her least favorite fabric), and we'd scurry to the basement workshops. We grew up with amazingly creative inspirations around us- from my Aunt Eileen's incredible oil paintings and art exhibits, our Aunt Terri's collection of eclectic music instruments, my grandmother's Polish recipes, my pap's photography, and my Mummum's pottery and pysanky eggs.
With spring and Easter soon arriving, the memories I have of pysanky grows more clear. My grandparents church's basement, where the smell of melting bees wax, a soft soot, and light traces of vinegar wafted around as my sister's and I drew shakily lines on eggs sourced from local farms. We'd dip them in vinegar until small bubbles formed around the egg, and then carefully trace over those same lines with with our grandmother's blue kitskas. We'd yelp out when we heated the tool too hot in the tall candle flame, leaving large, uncontrolled beads of wax on the egg. We'd dunk our eggs into Ball jars- from yellow to green, blue then orange (always accidentally made with vinegar- iykyk), and red to purple or black. We'd have colorful stains on our little fingers as we'd run our eggs, covered in wax ready to be carefully melted and removed with the help of a taper candle leftover from last advent, to our mummum to finish. Not long after, she'd hand us back a hollowed out egg, shining subtly from the freshly sprayed varnish, to be displayed on our mother's corner China cabinet.
Not long after, my grandmother lost her battle to cancer. My oldest sister moved states away to attend a prestigious college, soon to be followed by the next, and then myself. Countless changes happened to each of us- new jobs, new partners. Lost jobs, self-discovery, new businesses, grad-school, engagements, countless cups of coffee and banana drop muffins. In the start of the pandemic in early 2020 we were like many other families- making countless triangles of phone calls between ourselves, mostly about Grace's wedding shower, to have it or to skip it, and if the wedding would happen that year. Of course it would, this will be over in three weeks tops. And right then on the phone, a confirmation of her office's first confirmed case. She said "cancel it" and I started making a list of texts to go out. We each were growing exponentially concerned, when we received surprise packages in the mail from our mom- kits with a kitska, beeswax, dye tablets, and a pamphlet on the symbolism each pysanky sign. We got on Zoom and set up our stations with all of our tools and told stories from Easter's and springs prior, talking about the plan's we'd have for the next gathering. We laughed at our own poor skill, despite years of experience, as Grace zoomed ahead with mysteriously complex patterns before we could finish our third dip.
The origin of pysanky has Ukrainian roots- and two common tales have been passed down. The first, that an evil dragon being is chained in the Carpathian mountains- and that the more pysanky created would bind the beast tighter- and that should the world no longer make pysanky, the monster would be released! The other that the yellow yolk of the egg is an homage to the sun, returning after a long winter. No matter which theory you prefer, the key takeaway is that spending time together is always a worth while endeavor, and that handing down traditions should not be taken lightly. So, in order to keep traditions alive and the dragon at bay, my oldest sister Grace Troxel has began teaching classes on the art form! For three weekends we've relived the memories from our youth in that same church basement, confidently drawing hot wax over our pencil lines- and shared the preservation of art.
Above: Eastern European and Ukrainian Pysanka eggs created by Grace Troxel 2020-2023
Below: Eastern European and Ukrainian Pysanka eggs created by Nancy Troxel, 1999
I can't pretend that I'm as skilled as either- I'm just here for a good time being a sentimental photographer / memory protector.